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There are to opponents with swords about to start a battle and one of them asks the other:

始めてみるか

Does it sound more like "are we going to (try to) start" or "are you going to (try to) start in a condescending tone? I think it is the first option, for the second option a name or a 2nd person pronoun would be necessary. Am I correct?

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    It can be both, or it can be a monologue. It depends on the situation. I know why you thought it could be condescending tone but again it depends on the situation. Mar 31, 2023 at 22:31
  • It's from the first scene from the series "Kill Boksoon" on Netflix. So you are saying it depends merely on the tone? It was definitely not a monologue. Mar 31, 2023 at 22:48
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    I missed "one of them asks the other". It means "let's get started". I watched Kill Boksoon just now. The way he said is she would be an easy opponent. Mar 31, 2023 at 23:17
  • Wouldn’t “let’s get started” be more along the lines of “始めよう” or “始めてみよう”? In “始めてみるか” the subject of the verb is “she”, or basicaly “you” from his point of view? He says it in a condescending “you can try to beat me” way. Mar 31, 2023 at 23:58
  • Then again I wonder how to express the sentence as “we” as in “are we going to start now?” All these variants are quite different in English and I struggle with stuff like this in Japanese sometimes due to the language not being as pronoun dependent. Apr 1, 2023 at 0:02

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In this case, the subject could be either the speaker or the listener, but it's important to note that based on context, the conveyed meaning does not change for either subjects.

俺が始めてみるか (monologue, saying to self: should I start and see?)
お前、始めてみるか (saying to other: you! start and see?)

Either way, you know these two are gonna fight. The Japanese language is largely dependent on context and is inherently ambiguous. (Ex. 社長に紹介されます. Who is doing the introduction?) So, we have to always speak from context when looking at meanings of sentences. In this case, the conveyed meaning does not change for either subject. If the meanings were to change with the subject, then people can deduce which one is the intended meaning from the context. Since there are two different meanings(unlike this case), one must be much more likely over the other from context. If both are equally likely, then the speaker must re-word something to clear the ambiguity. Just like in the example 社長に紹介されます.

社長に紹介されました I was introduced to the boss (by someone).
社長に紹介されました I was introduced by the boss (to someone).

Here, without more sentences to give more context, two meanings are equally likely. But with 始めてみるか and the context that opponents with swords about to start a battle, there is no ambiguity at all. Who's the exact subject then, you ask? Sorry, I don't think that even a native speaker can answer that question for you, as the Japanese language is inherently ambiguous.

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  • Of course the only way to clear ambiguity in ambiguous sentences in any language is through context. One needs to be aware of what contextual clues to notice to disambiguate them though. Naturally, in this example, when one starts the other starts too. Isn’t it similar to the verb like 会う for example? The default is “we” since you can’t meet alone right? And if you said “I met with him” “he must have met with you too” so basically “we both met”. Apr 1, 2023 at 17:02
  • But, the way I see it, in the “始めてみる” example, there are actually 3 possible interpretations: I, you, or we. From context it can be understood as “speaking to oneself”, “teasing the opponent” or even as neutral “shall we both start at once”. From context I understood it as “teasing the opponent”, but noticed the subtitles (in a language other than English but still indo-european) used “we” and I thought the intended nuance got thus lost, but I wasn’t sure about my deduction. Apr 1, 2023 at 17:03
  • Sure, we is also a possible subject here, and the meaning still stays the same. Though I'd personally use 見ようか aka the volitional form when I'm talking about we, but certainly there is nothing wrong to use 見るか for we.
    – dvx2718
    Apr 1, 2023 at 17:31
  • So is it the same situation as with the verb 会う then? I mean, since the meaning does not change for either subject, the default must be we. If one wanted to specify who should start in particular, there should be a pronoun. I can’t wrap my head around how the 3 interpretations are the same, or maybe I missed your point. This aspect of Japanese is what I still don’t understand. For a language to work, 1 clause = 1 subject + predicate. In a clear sentence, there must be a doer, whether it be overt or not, it cannot be “ambiguous”. Apr 1, 2023 at 21:30
  • Maybe 始めるか is more like neutral “we” and 始めてみるか is more “you” in a condescending, provoking tone, as terran94 pointed in his answer? Seems to fit the context the best imo. Apr 1, 2023 at 21:37
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Shall we fight then ? (the opponent is the subject) (with the nuance of teasing/ provoking people like :"What are you waiting for ? Hit upvote and accept my answer !! " )

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  • Yes, that’s how I understood it too but then I thought about the other possibilities and realized I am actually not so sure. Apr 1, 2023 at 17:10

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